|Product dimensions:||6.04(w) x 5.04(h) x 1.13(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
From Chelsea, Michigan, Jack Meloche is a Michigan State University graduate, who has Bachelor of Arts degrees in both Theatre and Media & Information. For the past several years, Jack has been heavily involved in the Michigan theatre scene, both on and off stage. Outside of theatre, Jack is a local musician, and enjoys cartoons and anime.
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By Piers Anthony
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 Piers Anthony
All rights reserved.
Ike had lots of potential; everyone agreed about that. Some even called him a genius. What he lacked was direction. He had no idea what to do with his life.
He gazed at the pile of college and university brochures on the table. Many were impressive, and some were from top-ranked institutions. Anyone should be proud to go to any of them. Some even offered scholarships, which helped, because his family's means were limited. But as he pored over their offerings, he found that none of them really turned him on.
So what would turn him on? Apart from a portal to a grand future universe like those described in his collection of science fiction books, nothing much. The problem was that Ike knew the difference between fiction and reality. He could retreat into fabulous alternate worlds only via the pages of a book or a computer link to a massive multiplayer virtual reality game, and even those were becoming stale. "When I was a child," he muttered, remembering a quote from somewhere, "I thought as a child. But when I became a man I gave up childish things." Something like that. At age eighteen he was legally a man, but not quite ready to give up the foolish dream of alternate realities. The educational institutions were thoroughly grounded in realism; that was their problem. He wanted more.
He pawed the pile, restless. He had to decide on one, and be forever locked into its mundane reality. His folks were out working all day, making ends meet; he didn't want to disappoint them. Should he simply close his eyes and pick one? That was a ludicrous way to make a decision, but when all choices were essentially meaningless to him, maybe it would do.
He did it. His hand fell on what felt like a small one. He opened his eyes and gazed at it.
LOOKING FOR YOUR MISSION IN LIFE?
Actually he was, coincidentally.
WE HAVE IT. IF YOU CAN HANDLE IT.
They did? That intrigued him. At least enough to make him explore the brochure further, which was of course its purpose. Prepared for disappointment, he opened it and began to read.
The brochure was from Pomegranate College. He had never heard of it. There was no indication where it was located or what its curriculum was. Did it grow exotic fruits? That was not his idea of a life mission.
COURSE WORK IS CHALLENGING AND REWARDING.
BOARD AND TUITION ARE FREE TO QUALIFIED APPLICANTS.
Now that was interesting. He could afford that.
EVERY GRADUATE IS GUARANTEED PRESTIGIOUS EMPLOYMENT.
That was nice to know. But what was the nature of the employment?
IF YOU WISH TO APPLY, SIGN BELOW.
Ike stared at it. That was all? He had virtually nothing to go on. Why should he apply? Yet there was nothing else.
"So if I want to find out what this is all about, I have to apply," he said. "But that doesn't mean I have to go there, even if accepted. Just that I'm interested."
The brochure waited patiently.
There wasn't even a mailing address. How did they expect to receive his application?
What the hell. Ike signed his name.
There was a honk outside.
He jumped, amused by the timing. He peered out the window. There was a limousine parked before his house. Had it gotten lost?
He went out to talk to the driver. But there was no driver; it was a driverless vehicle. He had heard of these, but never before encountered one. The things were programmed; they could not get lost unless wires shorted out. This one did not seem to be in trouble. So why was it here.
Then he saw the lettering on the side: POMEGRANATE COLLEGE.
"Oh, my!" he breathed. That brochure must be a computer terminal, and his signature had summoned the limo to its location. It had come for him.
But could he trust this? He still knew next to nothing about the institution.
The door to the passenger compartment slid open.
What the hell, again. Ike got into the vehicle. He found the seat belt and put it on. He leaned back against the plush upholstery. This might be his only chance ever to feel like a one percenter. The one percent richest folk on the planet. The ones to whom civilized rules barely applied. Realizing that this was likely to be a limited experience, he set the bezel on his watch. He liked to time important things.
The door slid shut. Pleasant background music came on. The limo started moving. It pulled out into traffic, going where only it knew.
Ike shook his head, bemused. "Do you talk?" he inquired.
"No." The voice was from the speaker system, along with the music.
He had to laugh. Then he decided to experiment. "Do you provide snacks to travelers?"
A small desk swung out to lock in place before him. Two panels opened. A plate holding a sandwich rose up, and a plastic cup containing a beverage.
Ike opened and sipped the drink. It was a pleasant-tasting sport beverage. He bit into the sandwich. It was wholesome lettuce, baloney, and cheese.
When he finished, he put the cup and wrapper back into their compartments. These closed up and the table swung away.
"How about something to read?"
A panel in the front opened. There was a booklet. AVAILABLE COURSES.
Maybe that made sense. He flipped it open and put his finger on a page, randomly checking.
BASIC LASER MAGIC.
That was the course? Ike knew that lasers were marvelously sophisticated, involved in everything from eye surgery to high powered particle collisions. But magic? Maybe that was figurative: it was so good it seemed like magic. Lasers were science, of course, not magic, so it had to be just a way to phrase it.
The limo turned and slowed. It glided to a halt. The door slid open.
"Thank you, Limo," Ike said politely as he unbuckled and exited. "It has been a pleasure."
The car honked acknowledgment.
Ike stood on the pavement, waiting for the vehicle to depart. It didn't; it merely waited, parked.
Ike turned. He stood before a nondescript building. A green line started from where he stood and moved along the walk to the entrance. What was there to do but follow it?
The line took him to the front entrance, which opened as he approached, and into the building. Intrigued, he hardly noticed where he was going, until he found himself alone in what looked like a changing room. There was a sign: REMOVE CLOTHING. PERFORM NECESSARY NATURAL FUNCTIONS. DON FILM SUIT. DRESS.
Well, in for a nickel, in for a dollar. Ike stripped, folding his clothing and stacking it neatly on a table. He used the toilet. Then he picked up the film suit. It was gossamer light and transparent and significantly smaller than he was; he was afraid it would tear if stretched to fit his body. But he put his feet carefully in, and it extended to fit them. He hauled it up along his legs, and it covered them. When it reached his crotch he hesitated, but found that it actually enclosed his penis and scrotum like a second skin, not at all uncomfortable; it seemed to be designed to accommodate this part of the body too. He brought it on up, finding the arm extensions. The hand sections were like gloves, fitting his fingers. He paused, then drew it on over his watch. Then up to his head, where there was a hood. Again he hesitated, fearing he would be smothered if he put it over his face. But here it was fine mesh that he could breathe through. Good enough.
Complete, he gazed at himself in the mirror. He looked just like a naked man; the film suit did not show.
He put his regular clothing back on over the film, and it was almost as if there was no change; he did not feel the underlying suit. His hair was a bit messed up, and he could not comb it, though, so there was a difference. He should have combed it down, then carefully applied the hood.
He saw the green line going in another direction; it must have moved while he was changing. He followed it to another chamber. This one had a sheet of similar film, held in the shape of a vertical cone from floor to ceiling, about five feet across. The line led to the center of the cone and stopped.
Ike went where it led. "What now?" he asked.
Suddenly the conic wall illuminated. It formed a scene of a pleasant college campus with walks, buildings, trees, shrubbery, a fountain, and young people, evidently students or other applicants. It wasn't quite virtual reality, but the circular image came close. It was as though he stood within a transparent gazebo and was gazing out upon the real world beyond.
The green line reappeared. It led beyond the cone and toward one of the buildings. Ike took a step—and instead of moving, he found that the floor moved back, but the image progressed. It was as if he had taken a real step, when actually it was an emulated step. Somewhat like a versatile treadmill.
Okay. He began walking, and the scene moved smoothly past and behind him. At first it was confusing, but soon it was as though he were walking normally; it was mainly a matter of schooling his perspective. He saw others moving similarly, following their lines. So they must be applicants too, brought in the same way he was. This continued to be interesting.
His path joined another, and there was a girl on it. She was nothing special, being plain of feature and body, with her hair bound tightly back. But she was another person, in this decidedly odd situation. "Hello," he said experimentally.
"Hello," she answered.
He was surprised; somehow he had expected them to be ghosts to each other. "I'm Ike. I signed the form, a limo honked, and here I am."
"Me too. I'm Felony." She held up one hand in a stop signal before he could react. "I know, it sounds like a joke. My theory is that my folks didn't want another child, especially not a girl, so they took it out on me. I do get teased; I'm used to it."
"Oh, I wasn't--" Ike broke off, then tried again. "I was just surprised. Now you have explained, and it's okay. I know you are not a criminal."
"How do you know that?"
"Pomegranate College would not have extended an invitation to a criminal. They surely want only the best, so you must be one of the best. Your name hardly matters."
Felony smiled. "You're good at explaining things, aren't you? Even when caught off-guard."
Ike shrugged. "I guess I am. My problem is finding the right questions."
"I, in contrast, am forever coming up with questions. But I'm not so good with answers. Such as, why would any college solicit seemingly random students, and even provide limos so they can take the entrance examination? If they already know as much about us as they seem to, they should know whether we're qualified, and not need to bother with an exam. Let alone treat us to what has to be a pretty expensive virtual reality game setup."
"There must be qualities they can't figure from the paperwork," Ike said. "Such as character, commitment, compatibility. For those they just have to see us in action. I suspect we'll encounter some practical ethical challenges that will soon separate the sheep from the goats."
"I see it," Felony agreed. "Maybe this encounter is just such a challenge."
"To see who lets who pass first? I doubt it. There's room on the walk for us to walk abreast of each other."
"Abreast, a breast," she said. "And mine don't measure up."
"I didn't say a thing!"
"You didn't have to. I saw you check me out and lose interest. I'm too skinny."
Ike spread his hands, embarrassed. "You've got me. I do look at women. It's a man thing."
"I apologize. Sometimes I just seem to be looking for a fight. I shouldn't have mentioned it."
Ike considered. Normally he could get along with anyone, and it bothered him to have even a passing encounter go wrong. Felony had a lot of personality and was surely worth knowing, regardless of her figure. So he proceeded carefully. "I think we complement each other. That's complement with an E."
"I heard the E. We do."
"So maybe our encounter is not coincidental. Our colored guide lines could have been drawn to make us never get close to each other. Instead they converge. We may be judged by how we handle this. We may be almost sure we are being observed."
She smiled again. "You're pretty smart. Handsome, too."
"Why don't we give them something to digest? Set them back a bit for spying."
"I like the way you think."
Felony paused. She evidently had not anticipated this. Then she nodded. "Let's blow their circuits."
They faced each other. They stepped into each other. Now each of them was up against the film wall. Ike reached slowly toward her. She leaned toward him. His hands encountered the film and poked through it in much the manner his body had fitted into the film suit. He reached around her and put his spread hands against her back. She put her hands on his shoulders. She felt solid to him, and he must feel solid to her.
"I'll be darned," he murmured. "I doubted it was possible."
"So did I. This is some technology."
Their faces came close together. Closer. Then they touched.
They kissed. Her lips were soft and warm and very womanly. He embraced her more tightly, reacting to the magnetism of the kiss. There were layers of film between them, but they were barely perceivable, and apart from that their contact seemed totally real. It was as if they really were touching through the film.
They separated slightly after that eternally brief contact. Ike felt dizzy. "Was it my imagination, or was there more to that than teasing a spy?"
She closed her eyes dreamily. "I could fall in love with you without half trying."
He was embarrassed again. She thought he was trying to seduce her? "I didn't mean to come on to you. I--"
"I know. The breasts."
"Damn it, Felony! You're like a prickly cactus!"
She winced. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm just so used to being rejected, I react automatically. I apologize. Again."
She evidently did have a thing about being judged for her body. He was guilty of doing exactly that. She was not his girlfriend type. How could he reassure her without lying? Because he wasn't going to lie, to her or anyone; even social lies bothered him. Yet she did need something, and he was messing up.
The truth would have to do. Unless he could rephrase it.
So he brought her into him and kissed her again, hard. It was just as evocative as the first one.
"Rebuke accepted," she said breathlessly when he let her go.
"It's true," he said. "I like them buxom. But we're not here to date. We're here to apply to a college."
"Can we do both?" She held up her hand in the stop signal. "Cancel that; it's already been asked and answered. At least now we know we can interact physically, even though we must be hundreds of miles apart. How about teaming up temporarily for the purpose of maxing the exam? I promise not to mention those things again."
Those things: breasts. "Agreed." He let her go, and they resumed their walk along the path. They were coming to a classroom building.
"But there is something else you should know, if we are to associate. That may turn you off."
There was? "Then I'd better hear it."
"My name, Felony. I didn't tell you the whole of my theory. I think I am the child of rape, and my mother married in a hurry rather than have an abortion. It's not a perfect marriage. So I'm not my father's daughter, and not a child of love. I messed up my parents just by existing. I have felt guilty all my life. I am desperate to get out of their lives so they can finally forget the crime. I want to make my own life, better than theirs, but I am emotionally clumsy about it. So when you called me a cactus, you were on target. I'm sorry, but that's the way I am. So if you'd rather just separate now, I will understand."
"You were not responsible for the way you came into existence!"
"But I shouldn't have existed. My existence still causes them pain. I'm so ashamed. I don't want to cause you pain either."
"You may cause me pain," Ike said carefully. "But not because of your history. You have been forthright about your motives, and I appreciate that. I am trying to be similarly forthright about mine. If you can live with mine, I can live with yours."
"You're not rejecting me?"
"Of course I'm not! Now let's move on."
She seemed to unwind like a tight spring being slowly released. For a moment he was afraid she would cry, but she managed to stifle it. "Thank you."
"And if there's any shame, it's certainly not yours."
She nodded, accepting his verdict. Then she changed the subject. "This is an incredibly sophisticated setting," she said, looking around. "The trees look real, the flowers smell nice, and there's even a bit of a breeze. I've played some virtual reality games; they did not require film suits, but neither were they close to realism like this."
So she had had to don a film suit also. Of course she had. There was just something about such extremely intimate contact that made him nervous. Had she been a pretty girl ...
He cut off that thought. "It deepens the mystery of their mission," he said. "They don't have to go to such extremes to attract students. Not when they offer free room and board, and guaranteed employment for graduates. Even sending limos to bring students in. This is one expensive project. I don't see how we could be worth it. Something else is going on."
"That smells more like a question," Felony said. "I was hoping you would have an answer."
Excerpted from Odd Exam by Piers Anthony. Copyright © 2013 Piers Anthony. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1: Odd Invitation,
Chapter 2: Sword & Shield,
Chapter 3: Magic,
Chapter 4: Familiars,
Chapter 5: Awful Tower,
Chapter 6: Blue Heaven,
Chapter 7: Bird Seed,
Chapter 8: Sacrifice,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read a lot of Piers Anthony in high school and college—The Xanth series, Bio of a Space Pirate, the Incarnations of Immortality. The books were clever and fun and when I stumbled across Odd Exam I wondered why I had stopped reading him. The premise isn’t really that unique—many authors play with some variation on the idea that regular people are put into a magical world. I’ve done it myself in an unpublished novella I wrote in college. So I was especially interested in discovering what Anthony’s take would be on this theme. The ending was pretty obvious early on, but it’s the journey that gets you there and I found that mostly enjoyable. What bothered me—and I can’t get past it—was the stilted dialogue which totally surprised me. I don’t remember this being a problem in the other Piers Anthony books I’ve read. It is possible that this stilted dialogue was on purpose. The two main characters are very smart but have a great deal of difficulty with social interaction. I kept thinking that autistic people I know sometimes speak this way especially when dealing with difficult emotional situations. If it was Anthony’s intention to place his two heroes on the autistic spectrum, I applaud him and apologize for the low rating. But as it is, the dialogue overwhelmed the parts of the story I liked and dampened my overall enjoyment.
I thought this had a great start, but was disappointed at the shortness of it. I hope Piers continues to flesh out this story line. Would be a 5 but for length.